Note: This post by Mark Arnold originally appeared on cuinsight.com.

During a recent brand workshop working with a credit union partner in the Southeast, a leadership team member made the following observation about their credit union culture: “We must always be more than a place members deposit their money; we must be a safehaven for their trust and dreams.”

Wow. That is a profound and emotionally-grounded statement of purpose. Not coincidentally, the best brand cultures are often profound and emotionally-grounded. It was terrific to hear the credit union talk about their brand in such a way after undergoing the brand workshop.

Far too many credit unions are viewed by their members as mere piggybanks — simply a place to stash their cash for an undetermined (often limited) amount of time. This also includes lending products. Credit unions building profound and emotionally-grounded brand cultures strive to develop a membership base that is not merely transactional.

In other words, the relationship transcends transactional and enters the emotional realm of trust and dreams.

The only way to ensure this higher realm of member relations is by fostering a unique brand culture. Your leadership team must lead this unique brand culture, every single member of your staff must live it, and then, after time and training, your members will love your brand. Yes, love. The L-word does come into play in brand and culture. To ensure long-lasting and meaningful relationships, even multi-generational relationships, your members must love being a part of your credit union.

Empowered staff that know they have both the necessary ongoing training and support of their leadership team are much more likely to build these kinds of relationships. This means not just talking to members, but more importantly, actively listening to them.

A few friendly challenge questions regarding your credit union brand culture:

  1. Do you have a leadership team in place that is prepared to look at the credit union brand as a profound and emotionally-grounded cornerstone of your culture?
  2. Is your credit union making the investments (time, logistics, money, personnel, etc.) to ensure a profound brand culture permeates every level of your financial institution?
  3. Are you training staff to live this kind of brand? Subsequently, do you hold staff accountable to brand standards and, critically, do you offer quick and sincere praise for positively living the brand?
  4. Do you have a credit union staffed by brand ambassadors, free and empowered to do what it takes to develop amazing member relationships, or are you staffed by robots who are ill-prepared (and even perhaps hesitant or scared) to step out of the box and make member brand magic happen?
  5. Are you a safe place for members to learn and dream, or are you a cashbox?

You already know this but it’s a tough world out there for credit unions. It is probably also not a shocker that it will continue to get tougher. Brand is not all fluff and pretty words on the page. Brand is commitment. Brand is investment. Brand is all-consuming.

Brand is also, however, the future of successful credit unions.

Piggybanks are often smashed open with a hammer to get the money inside. Safehavens, however are more sacred and enduring realms. Which is your credit union?